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Understanding social change through autobiographical narrative


Project description

How do the diaries and memoirs of ordinary British people reflect periods of intense social change? The first phase of this project explores how writing about themselves helped people understand and adapt to the uncertainty of two periods of rapid change in British History (1937-45 and 1976-87) through research into the Mass Observation Archive (The Keep, Falmer, Brighton), and the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies (Special Collections, Brunel University Library).

The project (A) investigates how such autobiographical narratives recorded social change; (B) analyses qualitatively how narrative self-reflexivity enabled individuals to cope with paradigmatic social change by adjusting their expectations and values; and (C) will go on to apply the methodologies developed to diaries and memoirs being written today in order to explore the social values and structures of feeling emerging from the rapid social change of the 21st Century.

Results will be of interest to academics, policy makers and members of the public interested in finding out the benefits of autobiographical self-reflexive writing and whether we can extrapolate from today’s private thoughts to tomorrow’s public opinion. Updates, findings and results are disseminated via the project blog, social media, public talks, conference papers and academic publications.


  • Nick Hubble, Mass Observation and Everyday Life, Second Edition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Nick Hubble, 'Documenting Lives: Mass Observation, Women's Diaries, and Everyday Modernity' in Adam Smyth, ed., A History of English Autobiography, Cambridge University Press, 2016, 345-58.
  • Nick Hubble, The Proletarian Answer to the Modernist Question, Edinburgh University Press, 2017.
  • Ben Clarke and Nick Hubble, eds, Working-Class Writing: Theory and Practice, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018